Written By: Reginald Davis
Interim Chief Executive Officer
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives and dramatically impacted the nonprofit organizations that play an integral role in addressing the emotional, financial, healthcare, housing and other challenges faced by Baltimore City residents. While the nonprofit sector has moved rapidly with great perseverance and creativity to overcome the significantly increased needs of the populations we serve, we ourselves are fighting to survive amidst operational constraints and reduced funding streams. Our constituencies are often the first and most intimately impacted by this crisis, and we are uniquely vulnerable to the current economic instability.
Struggling every day to do more with less, the still-growing need for essential services has overwhelmed available resources. As a primary social safety net for vulnerable populations in our city, the greater social impact of our work is undeniable. The burden often falls on the nonprofit sector to provide a multitude of services not covered by government and business entities. The support we rely on from businesses, philanthropies and generous donors to meet these demands are critical in realizing our missions. Yet, disruptions to private and public revenue have brought many organizations to a breaking point, from which future recovery remains unclear.
A March 2020 survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund found that 60% of respondents were “experiencing destabilizing conditions that threaten long-term financial stability” and identified various current and anticipated impacts of COVID-19 for nonprofits, including:
Other reports provide additional detail on fewer government contracts and slower payments from local governments and an inability to fundraise at previous levels due to a mixture of canceled events and scaled-back donations from individuals. Add to this the physical and emotional strain placed on our staff and volunteers, many of whom are on the front lines while managing their own pandemic-related psychological and personal stresses.
Understanding that the future is unclear – that vaccine rollouts and public education on the virus continue to disenfranchise communities of color and fall short of expectation – that the populations we serve are often the last to benefit from economic recovery – there is fear that individual nonprofits and eventually entire sectors will continue to buckle under the pressure increasing demands, increasing costs, and collapsing revenues.
This begs the question: How will we survive in this time of great uncertainty and challenge when our missions are more critical than perhaps ever before?
With thousands of city residents relying on the service of Baltimore nonprofits, it is time for all nonprofit stakeholders: boards and staff, policymakers, philanthropic organizations, business leaders, and citizens at-large to consider how we might be more innovative to protect our city’s champions – to rebuild and empower the work of change-making organizations across the city.
Investing in this change will require new thinking and collaboration. It will require sustained introspection and focus on how the philanthropic and government communities can shift priorities, funding mechanisms and processes to adapt to new levels of need. While more questions than answers remain, there are several opportunities for stakeholders to step up and protect the future of nonprofits today.
Just as important, we must all begin to think beyond this crisis to ensure the nonprofit sector’s long-term viability – both in and out of crisis. We cannot revert to a pre-pandemic society when COVID-19 becomes a memory. As we fight to endure through this pandemic, we must consider relief and reform initiatives that strengthen fiscal and operational resiliency in the future. We must be bold in our policies and politics to build social equity and create more connected support ecosystems. We must consider how and why our social safety nets are so vulnerable today.
It is moments like this in history that precede the type of systemic change necessary to harness our collective power and raise up our communities. I look forward to working with my peers and nonprofit stakeholders across Baltimore to overcome these challenges and chart a path towards a stronger future.